10 May 2016

Auckland may fine beggars

7:56 pm on 10 May 2016


Auckland councillors are suggesting spot fining beggars for misbehaving in the city streets - but first they'll have to beg the government for the power to do it.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Figures show that over the past six months beggars have breached the public safety and nuisance bylaw on average 466 times a month.

They revealed two of the city's beggars have, in the past two years alone, breached the controversial bylaw almost 400 times.

There have been 350 to 640 breaches each month since September - with most offenders getting a verbal warning.

Police were called 65 times.

The council today proposed four ways to tackle the problem issue, including reviewing or changing the public safety and nuisance bylaw and asking the government for the power to spot fine beggars.

Auckland Council bylaws and compliance manager Max Wilde said the rules as they were did not give the council enough power.

"If we were to in the future pursue a ban on begging, we would still not have that power to issue infringement fines."

Councillor George Wood said although aggressive and intimidating behaviour from beggars had dropped off, the problem was not solved.

"It's taking us for ever to get these matters before the district court.

"30 days or that length of period before we can get a hearing.. it's crazy.

"So we want the ability to be able to issue infringements. And some of these people are making quite good money, so they can pay these infringements."

Mr Wood said the current bylaw needed more teeth - but shouldn't go too far.

"Having a Draconian regime probably is not going to see the problem go away.

"I know in Melbourne, where they actually have the ability to arrest these people and take them to court... think the penalty is 12 months imprisonment and $20,000 fine maximum or something like that.

"It's a totally different concept to what we have here in Auckland... where these people have to be dealt with by way of summons and taken to court. But in Melbourne, the problem hasn't gone away, it's still there."

Councillor Cathy Casey said the bylaw had had success, but more could be done.

"If you've been to any city in the world, you'll see homeless people selling The Big Issue. It's in Australia, in Scotland and America.

"It's a wonderful initiative and something we could be doing here."

Heart of the City wants begging to simply be banned.

Its chief executive Viv Beck said the bylaw was managing the issue, when it needed to solve it.

"It does need to acknowledge that people in need need help. Once we have worked through what that help is, I think we've got a scenario which then says what do we want for our city streets and what do we want for our reputation as a city."

She said an infringement fee would help.

A review of the bylaw is set to be carried out sometime in the next few months.

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